Health and Wellbeing in Elite Female Ballet Dancers: Implications of Maturity Timing

  • Siobhan Mitchell

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Puberty presents an interesting paradox for young dancers. While improvements in strength and power can be advantageous, changes in body size, shape, and composition may adversely affect performance and wellbeing. To understand how young dancers successfully negotiate puberty, a biocultural approach is required, considering the interactions between biological, psychological and sociocultural factors. The six studies included in this thesis investigate how existing biocultural models of adolescent adaptation can be applied in the context of ballet. Quantitative and qualitative approaches are used to explore how sociocultural, psychological and biological factors interact to determine adaptive responses during puberty. Although early maturing dancers were less likely to be represented at the adult level (study one), they did not differ physically or psychologically from their later developing peers. This suggested only those early developers with the requisite physical and psychological attributes are retained within professional ballet. This hypothesis was validated in a subsequent retrospective study exploring the developmental pathways and experiences of early, on time and late maturing ballet dancers (study two). In adolescent ballet dancers (study three) differences were found in the physical characteristics of dancers of differing maturity timing, with a bias toward late developers which increased with age/level of training. Adolescent dancers’ experiences of growing up in the context of vocational ballet training (study four to six) varied by maturity timing. Early, on time and late maturing ballet dancers described differences in psychosocial adaptation at puberty, mechanisms for coping, and in their learning experiences. Findings from this thesis point toward a unique and complex interaction among biological, psychological and sociocultural factors in ballet, not accounted for in existing biocultural models of adolescent adaptation. In order for a model to fully account for the implications of maturity timing in the context of ballet, a more complex model is required.
Date of Award7 Jun 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorSean Cumming (Supervisor) & Anne M. Haase (Supervisor)

Cite this